Luke 4 Exegesis


When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22

The Christian tradition often reads this passage as the initiation of Jesus as the Messiah. Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing means that the Scripture is fulfilled (i.e. the Messiah has arrived) because Jesus is the Messiah.

That is a venerable reading, and I don’t want to criticize so much as suggest an alternate reading.

In the Hebrew tradition, hearing is to not only hear say words but to believe them and act by them. So you don’t just Hear the words of the Torah, you embody, you enact, you live out the Torah.

Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing according to this way of understanding, is something like the Scripture is fulfilled–i.e. the lame walk, the oppressed freed, the year of Favor proclaimed–only in the doing of that message by the hearers. I.e. By the people not Jesus per se. Or at least Jesus as part of the larger group.

It adds a conditional sense to the meaning–the scripture will only be fulfilled in your hearing, otherwise its just words on a page or vibrations in the air between my vocal chords and your eardrums.

If we do not hear, truly hear, the scriptures, they are not fulfilled. “They have eyes but do not see, ears but not hear.”

In the US where 1/100 citizens are incarcerated these words ring: to proclaim release to captives. In a world where children in poor countries become blind through water-borne illnesses: recovery of sight to the blind.

Traditionally when a New Testament writer quotes a line or two from the Scriptures (meaning the Hebrew Scriptures) the author implies the entire section of scripture (chapter or psalm) within which the quotation is embedded. This Lukan passage quotes the Prophet Isaiah Chapter 61 (from the section of the work called Third Isaiah).

And if you read Chapter 61, there is this interesting verse:

6 And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God.

The reading I’ve offered above, is an exposition of this verse. By the hearing and doing of the Scriptures (fulfilling them), one becomes (or expresses what one already is perhaps) the identity of a minister of our God. And this God as Isaiah 61 says is a “God who loves justice and hates robbery and iniquity (v.8).”

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 8:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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